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:~: Monday, November 27, 2006 :~:

Pushing Your Boundaries

Recently, I had a long discussion with a published friend of mine. She was having issues with the second half of her book, which was due to her publisher in just a few weeks. The gist of her "issues" was that the root of the book was so very different from anything else she's written, she was feeling less than confident about the outcome. Now, I have complete faith in her. Aside from the fact she's published 30-some books, has a good sell-through record and recently hit the Walden's top 10 list with her June '06 release, she's a good story teller. She knows the biz. She understands the craft. She's got a solid career that's growing as fast as she wants it to. For me, it's great to have a published writer-friend who's open about everything she's going through, even the worry over a book she's not sure about.

Now, I'm no Freud, and there's no way I could ever reason as well as Aristotle, but listening to my friend's worry over her book was like an a-ha! moment for me. What she's experiencing now, so far into her publishing career, is the same thing new writers go through. Worry, doubt, neurosis over an idea or plot or storyline. After talking with her, I told her it seemed to me her issue wasn't that there was anything fundamentally wrong with her book, it was simply that the book itself is pushing her boundaries. It's so different from anything else she's done, and so outside the box, it's no wonder she's feeling a little anxiety. And while that can sometimes be scary as hell - career-wise - it can also be extremely exciting when you think about where you're headed and what you're accomplishing.

If you've seen my personal blog recently, you know I've been tip-toeing around my wip, reworking the first three chapters until it feels like my fingers are about to fall off from all the keystrokes I've been making. If I put together the different "versions" I've written, I'd probably be at least halfway through this sucker. As it is, I feel like I'm making no progress whatsoever because everything still feels off. After talking with my friend, however, and after thinking about where she is and what she's stressing over with her book, I realized the biggest problem I've been having isn't my plot, it's that I'm trying to work my way around writing about a topic that's out of my comfort zone. I've taken my hero out of his natural environment because it's easier for me to stick him somewhere else to get the ball rolling. In essence, I'm forcing things. I'm trying to make it work the way I want it, not the way the story needs to be written. Writing it the way I want to do it is easy, comfortable, like the last book I wrote. Writing it the way the character needs it to be will probably kick my ass before all is said and done.

So the question then becomes, do I want to push the boundaries? Write something that's going to challenge my abilities? Or do I want to take the easy route and write the same old thing?

I think I have my answer. Of course, it means starting over, but that's the joy of writing, right? If it were easy, we wouldn't be doing this day in and day out.

How do you push your boundaries? What writing risks do you take to challenge yourself?


Blogger Joan Swan said...

I think that's one of my problems. I'm always pushing my boundries. The problem with that is that I'm often so busy pushing forward that I don't take enough time to repeat and really learn the last concept or change I picked up.

My compulsivity drives me. I'm sure that's what these hellish revisions are about.

Love the cartoon.

8:37 PM  
Blogger wavybrains said...

I think a good story has to be a balance of boundary pushing and writing to your strengths--i.e. I write funny, sexy books. Trying to write a straight RS or mystery right now might push me too far away from my strengths, but in my latest WIP, I'm playing with secrets/minor mystery for the first time.

I like the way you phrased it--"Writing it the way the character needs it to" is ultimately the crux of every good book. The character does stupid things, increases tension, but books don't work when the writer forces the character to act OUT of character (as opposed to out of comfort zone). I'm struggling with this one right now in my WIP--am I forcing her to act out of character or am I challenging her? Would she really make these decisions? I'm plugging ahead, but that balance continues to plague me and will be something I carefully consider in the revising/editing stage.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

I love the snoopy writer cartoons, too, J. They're so "real".

I guess I could see constantly pushing boundaries another hurdle in itself. I hadn't thought of it that way.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Playing to your strengths is definitely important, Wavy. Writing a historical would push my boundaries, but it's not something I'm interested in. So when I push my boundaries, it has to be in a way that makes me a better writer at what I already do. Great point.

7:48 PM  

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